Several people in and around the FTA share an interest in moving towards a more peer-based learning experience. Here I try to see what that may mean, how far we are from that with the FTA and what kind of challenges we have to get there.
When we started the FTA, our aim was to offer courses for people to acquire specialised, in-debth knowledge on the topics of Free Software, Open Standards, Free Technology. As many people have an interest in, and our current society still demands for, we have aimed to offer university recognised courses, which in fact we have assured (current courses and course certificates are formally recognised by the universities, most at master level, some at bachelor). From the beginning we have followed as guiding principle to set up the Academy following the principles of Free Software production.
As is a defining criterion for Free Software, the software is published under free licenses. The same applies to all the software used and/or developed by the Academy, but also for all its learning materials. The software and materials are all published in Open Standard formats. Furthermore common to (most) Free Software development is the principle of peer production. As defined by Yochai Benkler, commons-based peer production (see references in WP) is a different economic model where production takes place by voluntary participants, who (often in large numbers) develop meaningful projects, normally without receiving monetary compensation. Typically, the results of peer production are available under equal conditions to all community members, usually under a free license. This contrasts to the conventional models of firm-based production and market-based production.
As discussed in a course organised by Marisa Monti and Joe Corneli at the P2P University (see: Open Governance and Learning), the FTA has various aspects of peer learning, though the production is not completely following that model. Similarities: 1) the FTA develops and uses only software licensed under free licenses; 2) all materials are under free licenses; 3) software and materials use Open Standard formats; 4) the courses are organised in groups of participants facilitated by a tutor; 5) the participants are encouraged to contribute to open wikis and blogs and participate in communities; 6) the assessment of the participants takes into account and values these contributions; participants are encouraged to make suggestions, contribute to and join the development of existing materials or new ones (see for example the development of the common curriculum). That said, there is still a minimum hierarchy, a predefined course programme, which requires the payment of tuition fees and formal requirements that make the FTA not fully peer based learning.
The reason the FTA is not yet completely peer based lie in the following challenges, which I think are typical for bridging with the established educational world.
Recognition. When aiming for formal recognition, by any institution, some requirements apply. For example to define a set of Learning Outcomes, syllabus and set of activities in order to obtain the formally recognised certificate or diploma. In the case of an FTA course, these can be found on the website, the course book and study guide. Furthermore, recognition can only take place after assessment by the tutor.
Assessment. Various levels of assessments are in place in formally recognised courses, and also in the case of the FTA courses. The first, most obvious one is the tutor who guides the group and assesses the activities, contributions and assignments of each group member. Secondly, the tutor is assessed, by the participants, but also by the university. Then the whole programme, its organisation, materials, relevance, consistency and other quality aspects are evaluated periodically.
Economic sustainability. In order to be able to run such formal courses, staff for tutoring, quality assessment, coordination, infrastructure and material development needs to be paid.
As the peer learning model promises greater access and flexibility to cater the needs of the interested participants, we're looking for ways to deal with these challenges. The question arises then how we could address these challenges differently, so to assure a fully peer-based learning model.
I would like to hear your ideas and discuss them.
draft of releveant paper I currently write, titled
Leveraging moneyless approach in organizing learning networks